The Tapestry Chronicles
“Long ago, the gods made our people to serve as their slaves. And for centuries, that is what we were. We were slaves.
“We raided villages, murdered the helpless and took what we wanted from the weak. Because that was what we were taught. The mantra running through our minds, over and over again.
“The strong eat the weak and pain makes me stronger.
“And so we lived, we bred, we fought and we died. That was our lives.
“But one day, a warrior stood and said we did not have to live as slaves to the gods. The lessons they taught us—of steel, of violence, of blood, of pain—could be used to set us free. We would go to the mountain and we would murder the gods.
“And that is what we did…”
Born of the Wastes
Orcish heritage always has some things in common: green skin, towering six and a half foot tall frames with mighty builds, sloping foreheads and massive jaws with prominent teeth. Their noses are flat and sometimes resemble snouts. Male orcs have large tusks that replace their lower canines; these tusks never stop growing and will regrow if broken or fall out. Hair is often stiff and bristly, and usually a shade of black or red, and thick body hair is common among males. Some sages have postulated that orcs were originally formed from boars or warthogs by their dark gods, but typically don’t make this claim in front of any orc within earshot.
Orcs are often born in litters of three or four, while half-orcs are more often born singly, or sometimes as twins. All orcs reach their maturity faster than any other race. By the time they are six months old, they are already mobile. At one year, they are learning to use tools and can even wield weapons. An orc is ready to hunt and raid by age seven, though they don’t often reach their prime until they are about thirteen. However, orcs are equally short-lived. The rare orc that dies of old age passes sometime shortly after 40 years.
Half-orcs are welcomed with open arms in the greater orcish community. Their keener intellects often mark them as chieftains or shamans. However, they can rarely find this among the other Namegivers; at best they are seen as second class citizens, and at worst, abominations to be destroyed. Naturally, few half-orcs are found outside of the orcish tribes.
By Any Other Name
To take control of their own destiny required more than the raw ability to murder their gods. Orcs needed the special spark that burned within the other races: they needed to become Namegivers. To Name something is to own it, to give it meaning, but the orcs were bred without such a light in their souls.
That changed, however, with the coming of half-orcs. As part of the dark gifts given to them by their gods, orcs were able to replenish their numbers many times over with practically any race; while such unions were rarely willing, the progeny was always born half-orc: bearing the same strength and savagery of his father, but a keener intellect, and something… more.
The first such half-orc to rally the tribes under a banner was named Ghorbash. Intelligent as he was ferocious, he put a name to the orcish suffering: Shathula, the Pain that Beckons. The first orc to be recognized a Namegiver, the rise of the Cult of Pain weakened the hold of the gods on the orcs just enough for Ghorbash and twelve of the greatest orc champions (thirteen being a sacred number) to murder the gods and free their people.
Freedom and Fury
For orcs, who served entire lifetimes as slaves for so long to wicked gods, freedom is everything. “Without freedom, all orcs are slaves.” Orc culture, now liberated from their gods, has transformed under that one paradigm. Orcs are free to live their own lives. Free from all tyrannies.
When orcs find themselves in dispute and cannot find a resolution between themselves, they find an orc both parties trust to decide on the matter. Whatever the orc chooses, the two parties agree to abide by the decision.
Orcs are a passionate people, given to extreme swings of emotions, known for gigantic melancholy and gigantic mirth in equal measure. Part of this is due to their hot blooded nature, but just as much of it is owed to their hard won freedom. Orcs laugh loud, dance wild, and fly into rages that pass as quickly as they come (the orcs call this the small fury, gadtha).
Because of their history, orcs try to keep a leash on violence, but it is not easy. They were bred for it. Bred with the bludga: the blood fury. It overcomes all your senses, blinds your mind to thought and throws you into a fire that only blood can quench. Orcs look upon bludga as a remnant of their past. The last bit of hold the gods have upon them. An orc cannot control it, and thus, it makes him a slave.
Many orcs see bludga as a sin: a moral failing. They urge their youth to fight the rage, to suppress it. Perhaps, one day, they will find a way to purge it from their souls forever. But others see bludga as a blessing. Yes, it is the surrender of freedom, but it is a willing surrender, not a forced one. They embrace bludga and use it to defeat those who would enslave the orc race again. Although, there are stories of orcs entering a kind of “sacred rage.” A rage that they can control. A rage that, instead of possessing the orc, the orc possesses. Most orcs consider such stories to be only that: stories. Although a few have said the orcs who went up the mountain to kill the Gods entered such a rage. Perhaps there is more to the tale than just wishful thinking…
Between freedom (the passion to control their own destiny) and bludga (an uncontrollable bloodlust that takes all freedom away) is the place where orcs find themselves today.
The Cult of Pain
In the absence of Gods, orcs have turned to another force greater than themselves to revere. A force that controls all creatures. A force that can kill you… or drive you to become a legend.
Orcs do not worship Gods; they worship pain. The orc word for this is shathula. Orcs view pain as a sentient, living entity in the world. It warns an orc, “You are about to die.” The typical ork response to this warning is, “Shut up, I’m busy.”
Shathula teaches that pain is a sentient, living force in the world (and only orcs can recognize it). The orc relationship with pain is twofold. First, orcs recognize that pain is an indication of injury. In other words, pain lets you know how close to death you are. Second, orcs also recognize that pain causes biological changes in the body. Adrenaline rushes through the blood, making the orc stronger and faster. The closer you are to death, the more shathula pushes you to survive.
Of course, there comes a time when pain is too great to overcome. You are too close to death and the end is inevitable. This is the time for greatness. To show your strength. To embrace your pain. To embrace your destiny.
Orcs do not show pain, but they do point out pain in others. The first is a matter of pride. “I do not make the sounds of a weakling.” The second is a point of honor. “Look at Guthar! Look at his wounds! Look at his pain!” That’s why orcs point out how another “holds his pain.” It is a matter of respect.
Scars of Honor
While men have their own code of honor, orcs follow a different kind of morality. They call it va. The word literally means “scars,” but it has deeper connotations. Many human scholars use Fortunas Breck’s account of his summer of living with the Iron Bender Tribe is the best introduction to va.
It was his first week living with the orcs. He had only recently earned enough trust to sit closer to the fire—not yet next to it—and he noticed the orcs were “painting their scars.” He asked why and quickly found himself struck in the face and flat on his back. Another orc, one who was friendlier to Breck, quietly explained that it was rude to ask about scars. He had to wait until someone gave up the story voluntarily.
Eventually, Breck earned enough trust that one orc warrior, named Gothin, pointed at a small scar on his shoulder. “You see this?” Gothin asked. Breck nodded, but said nothing. Gothin told him the story of how he earned the scar stealing horses from a human village.
“They shot an arrow at me,” he said. “It went straight through my arm. I left it there until I came back to camp and then I ripped it out myself.”
Another orc shook his head violently. “That is nothing!” he shouted, showing a larger scar. “This one here! This one I earned protecting a catch of orc children against an ogre! It wanted to eat them all. I wasn’t going to allow that!”
These were vaka: scar stories. Breck said the stories went on for hours. Each orc showing another scar, each story more great than the last. He wrote, “I would share the rest, but I cannot, dear reader. You have not earned the right to hear them.”
For orcs, scars are more than just war stories. A scar demonstrates an orc’s wounds—the pain he suffered to succeed. A vaka, a scar story, is more than just bragging about accomplishments. If an orc accomplishes a great task with no scars, the story isn’t worth telling. He sacrificed nothing, therefore, his accomplishment is worth nothing. To make a story worthy or great, an orc must sacrifice something to make it great.
Breck also wrote that some orcs voluntarily give themselves scars to represent emotional loss or grief. An orc who loses a lover to violence puts a scar across his heart. The deeper the scar, the greater the loss.
Breck also noted that the orcs began telling him scar stories after he had been injured himself while protecting an orc child from a wolf. The wolf had bit into his leg, leaving a deep wound. That night, after he had recovered, the orcs began telling him vaka. In a small way, they acknowledged his courage and told him stories as a way to thank him for saving the child.
This is not to say orcs do not value stealth and guile. They do. But a deed is not great—it has no honor—unless the hero gave up something to accomplish his goal. Sacrifice. That is what makes an action honorable. It is the va – the scar – that makes it great. And, as mentioned above, scars do not have to be physical. An orc hero who must choose between the one he loves and his best friend… which will he give up? That is a deep scar. A scar, some orcs say, that can never heal. Vadu. The scar that never heals. The greatest honor of all.
Breck summarized va like this: “Orcs are not interested in simple great deeds. They want to hear stories of sacrifice and pain. The story of the orc who snuck into an enemy’s village and killed every single warrior without taking a single injury? They would scoff at such a tale. But a warrior who walked in and challenged each and every warrior to a duel, fought them all, and nearly died doing so? That is a story an orc wants to hear. I do not know if all the stories I heard were true. It does not matter. I saw the pain in their eyes. The suffering they survived. That is what makes orcs sing. “I feel your pain, my brother. And I sing for you.”
The orc word nava means “no scars.” Orcs use it in many ways. It can be used as an insult: a human noble who has lived his life in comfort without ever having to make difficult decisions has “nava.” It can be used as a term of disappointment: if an orc undergoes adventure where the orc comes out the other side without any significant challenge, he may be heard to utter, “Nava.” Orcs have been known to use the term to dismiss a task unworthy of their attention. If the task is not challenging enough, the orc will say, “Nava.” It has no scars. Another warrior who challenges the orc to a duel may see the orc turn away, turning his back on the challenger. “Nava,” the orc says. “There are no scars here.”
The Six Great Tribes
Thirteen armies, led by thirteen warlords, traveled up the mountain to face the gods. Only six of those armies returned. (When the Tribes meet, they always raise seven white banners for the Tribes who did not return from the Mountain.) The warlords who led those armies not only slew the Gods of the Mountain, but did a little bit more.
They ate the Gods of the Mountain. Drank their blood and ate their flesh. When they returned from the mountain, they brought the strength of the gods with them. They passed that strength on to their children and those orcs passed that strength on to their children. Thus, the six great Tribes.
Orcs have no cities or villages. They are a migratory species that moves across the rough northern wastes where it is too cold for farms. The orc word for their eternal migration is Taldutha, or “the Big Walk.”
Orcs have no agriculture, instead they rely on hunting and gathering. The common orc diet consists of game, parsnips, potatoes, carrots and other tubers. They also greatly enjoy fruits, especially berries, when they can find them. During the winter months, orcs are known to eat pinecones. They are also skilled brewers and have found men and halflings are particularly fond of orc mead and cider. During the Big Walk, the Tribes generally stay out of each other’s way, but sometimes cross paths for trade, exchanging stories and news and celebrations.
Orc tribes have no currency, relying entirely on barter. Orcs who have traveled south and lived in human cities bring back tales of humans using coin and paper, but the idea has not caught on in the Tribes.
Orcs who do come to the human cities are not ignorant of coins and other kinds of currency, but they don’t see much sense in the practice. They’ll participate—trading little pieces of soft worthless metal for a good, solid steel axe—but that doesn’t mean they won’t snicker while they’re doing it.
One peculiar thing about orcs: animals don’t like them. Beasts can sense something wrong about orcs. Perhaps it is the smell, or perhaps it is just a sense that orcs are not… natural. Most animals either flee or attack orcs, depending on the beast. This made hunting difficult. It made finding a mount impossible.
But orcs did not accept this fate. Instead, they experimented with ways to make mounts. Eventually, they found a way. It isn’t anything resembling “domestication.” It’s something else entirely.
If an orc wants a hunting hound or riding horse, he captures an animal and then starves it for several days. He then gives the animal food that has been mixed with his own blood. This process takes several weeks, but the orc blood transforms the animal into something else. It transforms the animal into a feth’ork. An “orc friend.”
The animal’s attitude isn’t the only thing that’s transformed. With the orc blood coursing through its system, the orc friend gains size, strength and ferocity. In fact, a feth’ork may call upon the “red rage” just as orcs do, entering a blind, killing frenzy. A feth’ork also shares a bond with the orc who made him. While the two cannot directly communicate, the two gain a kind of mutual intuition. If the wolf smells danger, the orc knows it. If dialogue with a human diplomat is going sour, the feth’ork begins to snarl.
Some orcs reject the use of blood to create animal companions. Perhaps it reminds them of the old days…
Orc Tribes: Wolfbrother, Ironhand, Namekeeper, Dragontooth, Unbroken, Nightblade
Ability Score Adjustment Increase your Strength by 2.
Speed 30 feet.
Orc Weapon Training You gain proficiency with the battleaxe, greataxe, and spear.
Menacing You gain proficiency with the Intimidation skill.
Relentless Endurance As the PHB.
Savage Attacks As the PHB.
Subrace You are either a blooded orc, razorback orc, or half orc.
True blooded orcs are the original and most widespread of the orcish races due to their ability to breed quickly and adapt to most terrains. Their hearts still beat with a savage fury that is barely tamed.
Ability Score Increase Increase your Constitution by 1.
Orcish Aggressiveness As a bonus action during the first round of combat, you can move up to your speed towards any hostile creature that you can see. This bonus action can provoke an attack of opportunity as normal.
Far more feral and primitive than the others in their tribes, razorbacks are more animal than orc. Their tusks are larger, their hair thicker, and they have a tendency to run on all fours. They are more in tune with the natural world than other orcs.
Ability Score Increase Increase your Wisdom by 1.
Keen Senses Razorback orcs gain advantage on all Perception checks that rely on smell and hearing.
Animal Instincts You can sense the aura of your immediate vicinity with a Wisdom (Nature) check. You will gain often vague or cryptic impressions of such things as if the site had once been a place of great conflict or disaster in the past couple centuries, what the weather will be like during the next few days and if there are any impending natural disasters.
Combining the best of all worlds, the half-orc is even tougher and more adaptable than his kin.
Ability Score Increase Increase one ability score of your choice by 1.